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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Negron committee set to vote on juvenile justice



Thursday morning, Sen. Joe Negron’s Justice Appropriations Subcommittee will hear legislation he voted against last year but that’s tied to one of his main focuses as he ascends to the Senate presidency.

The bill (SB 314) makes a number of changes to juvenile justice laws, notably cutting back “direct file,” a process that allows prosecutors to try kids as adults without a judge’s approval. It limits direct file to 17 violent crimes for 16- to 18-year-olds and to murder, manslaughter and rape for 14- and 15-year-olds. Children could still be tried as adults for other crimes under a judge’s order.

Reform supporters say direct file has been used to charge children as adults for relatively minor offenses, having a long-term effect on their lives. Opponents — namely prosecutors — worry that it takes a useful tool out of their hands in trying to curb criminal activity. 

The issue closely tied to one Negron has already made a centerpiece of his Senate presidency: not over-criminalizing childhood. He highlighted it in December when he was officially designated the chamber’s next leader, telling a story about mistakes he made as a child.

“Let's not criminalize adolescence,” Negron said. “There is a delicate balance here. We should not and we will not tolerate serious wrongdoing by young people but, at the same time, let's not criminalize adolescence.”

But last year, Negron voted against a similar bill in the same committee.

“The reason I voted against it last year was the percentage of direct files was very, very low, and I didn’t think there was a persuasive case made that there had been an abuse of discretion,” Negron said.

In recent years, the number of kids being tried in adult court has been decreasing, according to a report by Human Rights Watch.

Still, Negron said the issue merits consideration.

“It’s definitely a discussion we should have,” Negron said. “We’ll see where we go.”

[Last modified: Wednesday, February 10, 2016 5:40pm]


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